Friday, September 15, 2017

Shabbat-O-Gram for Sept 15


The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Sheryl and Daniel Young
in honor of their son, Jeremy, becoming a Bar Mitzvah

Israeli new years card from the 1940s
courtesy of Israel 21c

Shabbat Shalom

... and Happy 5778! 

Mazal tov to Jeremy Young on his becoming Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.  Join us for that, as well as for tonight's service, when we will be celebrating the ufruf of Emily Pomerantz and Sean Altman.  This busy weekend will also include Selichot services at The Conservative Synagogue (TCS) in Westport, where TBE and TCS will be joined by Congregation Beth El of Norwalk in our annual Selichot collaboration.  On Sunday morning, our annual cemetery service will take place at 10 AM, and our bima and sukkah will be assembled. Thanks in advance to everyone for their help!
Check out Jake Rosner's bar mitzvah d'var Torah from last week, as well as our Parsha Packets for this season of repentance: a discussion guide for Simon Wiesenthal's "The Sunflower,"  and  our packet on self-scrutiny, "Can We Judge Ourselves?" (see excerpts below).

 TBE European Trip:  
Reflections from the Group & 
Bavarian Quarter Memorial

Those who traveled with me this past summer to Poland, Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic have written about it and I've assembled their reflections in a booklet that will be distributed on Rosh Hashanah.  You can preview it here.  

I've included in it some photos, as well as a most impressive living museum, an entire Berlin neighborhood describing the meticulous, incremental discrimination that led ultimately to the deportation and murder of their Jewish population.  It's called The Bavarian Quarter Memorial.

Before Hitler came to power, 16,000 Jews lived in the Bavarian Quarter of Berlin's Schöneberg district. It was often referred to as the Jewish Switzerland because it was an affluent neighborhood of physicians, businessmen, lawyers, and artists.
Holocaust historians have identified the names of 6000 Jews from Schöneberg who were deported or killed.

This decentralized memorial comprises 80 two-sided plaques on 80 lampposts throughout the neighborhood. The stark contrast between an innocent-looking everyday item on one side, and the official Nazi statute succeed in surprising even the casual passer-by.  Click here to see the signs, with English translation.  Below are a few examples can be found.

The central question of the memorial is "How could it come it this?" and is designed as a web of remembrance. The goal of the memorial is to focus on the many small steps in the persecution of the Jews that affected the "everyday lives" of the inhabitants of the Bavarian Quarter.

Remember, the Holocaust did not happen all at once.  Though Kafka might not agree (see his classic, "The Metamorphosis," here), the process of turning a human being into vermin takes years, and it begins with the little things, like forcing someone to sit in the back of a bus.  The fact that this exhibit is so public is just astounding. School children cannot help but pass these signs every day, even at the playground.  Every day becomes Remembrance Day.  It's a fantastic educational tool.  Read an interview with the creators of the memorial.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what Nazis did, and anyone who embraces their legacy, their symbolism and their name, is embracing this program of systematic degradation of human beings.  Please feel free to show this to anyone who might be tempted to scrawl a swastika on a school bathroom door because it's cool to get a rise out of people - or anyone who dares to introduce moral equivalency to any conversation about Nazis. 

You might have guessed that our summer excursion will provide a backdrop to my sermons over the coming two weeks.  But although the Holocaust is hardly a neglected topic (to say the least!), I'm going to be sharing some new approaches that I hope will stimulate thought (at least enough to get you through your Rosh Hashanah lunch).  I look forward to your feedback.  For those who missed them, here are my own dispatches from Europe , written this past summer during the trip.
"Jews in Berlin may only buy food between four and five o'clock in the afternoon"

Jewish musicians are no longer allowed to work. March 31, 1935

"Jewish Veterinarians may not open practices"; "General employment ban"


Jews are no longer allowed to join the German Automobile Association. October 1, 1933
Jewish actors and actresses are no longer allowed to perform. March 4, 1934 

German movies are only those movies created in Germany, by those of German descent. June 28, 1933

"Jews must forfeit all electrical devices"

As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, 
some reminders and requests from the rabbi

1) As in prior years, we will be live streaming, with the intent of reaching those who are in senior residences (Atria will have a public viewing in their community room), hospitals and those in college or living in far flung places around the globe.  There is nothing like being here, but we are delighted to bring the joy to everyone looking for our support.     
2)     Once again, we are collecting food for Person to Person.  Please take a bag home and fill it, bringing it back over the coming days.

3)     Our offer of second day Rosh Hashanah services open to the unaffiliated (along with the longstanding practice of opening up Yizkor on Yom Kippur) is one that goes right to the core of our mission.  We're here - all of us - to share the beauty and wonder of Jewish tradition with everyone around us, not to proselytize, but to help repair the world.  If we can reach people who are lonely, disengaged or seeking, we are doing are job.  Our area happens to be filled with such people, especially young professionals who have moved in recently.  You know them.  Please tell them about us and invite them to be here, whether as members or as visitors.  Please contact for more information.... 

And while I'm at it, plan to be here on second day Rosh Hashanah yourselves!  Our attendance has been growing every year, and it's a great time to really settle in to a more relaxed service (and hear part two of the sermon cycle).
5)     Plan to get here as early as you can in the morning.  We begin at 8:45 AM on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The service is scheduled to end at about 1:15, after the children's program has let out.  That is by design, so that you can pick up the kids and bring them down to the main service for the conclusion, so they can hear multiple blasts of the shofar.  I'll encourage the kids to come forward to the foot of the bima.  Please don't rush for the doors as the service nears its conclusion.  I know the shuttles are inconvenient, but think of the wait as an added opportunity to wish more people a sweet year.  Or, to avoid the bus-crush entirely, see #7 below.

6)     Please turn off electronic devices - this is for adults and kids too.  I love those items as much as anyone and I'm also as dependent on them.  But there comes a time when simply living requires living simply.  No need for Facebook while we face the Book.  But once the holiday is behind us, feel free to post and tweet away how wonderful it was to be at TBE, and share what you gained from the experience!

7)     Tashlich always provides a welcome change to get outdoors after a long day of praying and eating.  Join us right after services on Thursday (1:15 ish) weather permitting, for a quick walk over Doral Farms together.  As always we will cast breadcrumbs off into the living waters, symbolically throwing off the burden of our sins.

8)     My final request... smile a little. Maybe even a lot. You'll be amazed at how much 1500 smiles can illuminate and energize a room.

My best wishes to you and yours for a sweet new year.

High Holiday Services...Boring?  No Way!!!
(Ennui Shall Overcome!)

We enter these Days of Awe filled with both anticipation and trepidation. I feel quite a bit of both at this time of year.  I feel it's my job to help you feel both too - and to enter next week's services fully prepared to be totally present for the totality of the experience.  We always hear complaints about services being "boring" - not ours, of course - but out there :) and that troubles me.  Boredom connotes detachment and listlessness.  The French word ennui is closest to what we are feeling when we say we are "bored" at services. One writer calls it "a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction, an attitude of lethargic disappointment, a preoccupation with the fundamental emptiness of existence." 

I call that "Tuesday."

Without getting overly dramatic, boredom is usually less about the service itself than it is about the worshiper.  Don't get me wrong; I take it as my responsibility to lead a service that is as engaging as it can possibly be - with inspiring music, readings, explanations, meditative moments and ample opportunities for congregational participation. We've got all that (and, in my humble opinion, the best cantor in the universe).  The rest is up to you. 

So what follows is my High Holidays Anti-Ennui Survival Guide, some suggestions for you, wherever you happen to be.

1)    If you feel disconnected, try to connect, in whatever way you can.  I give some suggestions below.  If you see someone else looking disconnected, take a moment to reach out and welcome that person, while respecting the desire for privacy.  Each of us a greeter.  We are all responsible for our neighbors.  You can assume that every person in the room next week will be feeling the same angst you are, whether about a family crisis, a health challenge, job troubles, or just general feelings of insecurity about the future.

2)    If you don't understand a prayer or disagree with its apparent theological message, join the club.  Remember that we are in dialogue with a liturgy that spans many centuries and continents.  Think of the Machzor as an eclectic playlist on your favorite electronic device (I'll take an iPhone 6, thank you) .  You've got your Mozart, your Beatles and your Taylor Swift; many different voices speaking across the ages, in dialogue with one another.  And now you will be adding your own, equally authentic voice to that eternal symphony, the ageless Jewish and human quest for a purposeful life.

Now I have a big advantage over most of you.  I never get bored during services, for a variety of reasons: For one thing, I am working - I need to stay completely focused on what is happening and what is upcoming. Also, I understand the prayers from many perspectives: historical, existential (oh, that word again), experiential, personal, musical, you name it.  Just today, I was listening to my father's classical cantorial Rosh Hashanah service, taped "live" in 1971.  So I can relate to the prayers not only as documents of the Jewish experience, but as a personal reminiscence from my childhood.
To a degree, most of us have similar childhood memories. What's harder for most non-rabbis is to be able to understand the prayers enough to grapple with them, and to stay focused when there are so many distractions.

3)    So my next suggestion is: Eliminate the Noise.  I mean that literally, of course, but even more in a non literal sense.  Yes, it's important not to disturb those who are trying to engage, especially for those who are sitting far from the bima, way back in the social hall.  There are usually seats available up front, by the way, especially on day two or late in the service.  By all means, give lots of hugs and reconnect with all those people you haven't seen; but that can all be done with smiles and kisses and not with long conversations (which you are welcome to have elsewhere in the building).

I know it's challenging to feel connected to a service when the rabbi is the size of a flea. 

But even that shouldn't matter if you succeed in eliminating the other kind of noise,the internal distractions that are the hallmark of our multitasking, 24-7, A.D.D. everyday lives.  Do yourself a favor and leave all of that at the door. Think about the bigger questions that need to be asked.  Let yourself get swept away by our musicians, singers and fantastic cantor.  Lose yourself in the repetitive cadences, even when you don't understand what they mean.  That's not so important.  Eliminate the noise in your head.  You will thank me.  And if you do that, you will never be bored.

4)    Don't try to keep up. You don't need to pray every word.  Those who wish to will have the opportunity to, both with us and on your own. Understand that we may go at a pace that won't allow non-speed davenners to pray every word.  This is not a competition. What I recommend instead is that you focus on certain phrases or concepts and ask yourself some basic questions. If you find one that means something to you, repeat it again and again in your mind, or even out loud. Take it home with you.  Let it marinate. It could change your life.

5)    With that in mind, here are some key "mantras" from the prayers to reflect upon (pages are from our prayer book, Machor Lev Shalem)

 P. 91, 138 and 169.  In the prayer for peace, Sim Shalom, we say:
Ki ve-or panekha natata lanu, Adonai Eloheinu Torat ħayim ve-ahavat ħesed, u-tzedaka u-ve-raħa ve-raħamim ve-ħayim ve-shalom
For by the light of Your face You have given us, Adonai our God, the Torah of life, and love of kindness, and righteousness and blessing and mercy and life and peace;
I say this prayer each morning, and when I do, allow those words to linger on my tongue.  Our way is the way of life, kindness, righteousness (tzedakkah), blessing, mercy and peace.  I absolutely promise you that if you say that verse over and over, especially in Hebrew, where there is a mantra-like rhythm, you will become a more kind, charitable, merciful and peaceful person - and therefore happier.

P. 142.  In the Unetane Tokef prayer, (which has a remarkable history), there are several memorable verses that I carry as mantras, including "Who shall live and who shall die." 

The idea is that we carry the power of life and death in us, that we also have tremendous power to shape our own destiny.  Leonard Cohen's version only highlights how we can interpret ancient prayers with great freedom and creativity.

But the kicker is "Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severe Decree."  How can we  not sing that refrain, as we do with incredible intensity here, and not be changed by it?
In Musaf, (eg p. 162) right after the shofar is blown, we come to the line"Hayom Harat Olam," "Today is the birthday of the world."  

Chew on that for a while.  Just repeat the words.  The Hebrew literally means, "Today the world is pregnant."  Whoa!!!  This mantra is pregnant with possibilities.  Maybe it means that we are about to give birth to our future.  Or maybe it harks back to the notion that the world is a living being, from which we are born - and that we need to care for our planet as we would care for a parent. Or maybe since "olam" also means "eternity," it means that our world is eternally pregnant - and so are we - we are constantly in the process of gestation.  Aside from what that would do for the pickle industry, it is a remarkable way to look at how we live.

So there you have it.  Three Mantras, and that's just off the top of my head.  And I haven't even gotten to God yet.  Avinu Malkenu, or the Sh'ma, for instance, force us to confront our beliefs about what metaphor for divinity and holiness works best for us, about how we can listen attentively enough to hear that Still, Small Voice speaking to us. Oh yes, and there's the shofar, whose mantra like soundings (100 blasts each day) can't help but stir us from our lethargy.

 "Can We Judge Ourselves?"
"Know thyself." - Socrates
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. -- Tao Te Ching
One of the secrets of life is to be honestly who you are. Who others want you to be, who you used to be, and who you may someday become ... these are fantasies. To be honestly who you are is to give up your illusions and face today with courage.  -- Bill Purdin
The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning to work on becoming yourself. -- Anna Quindlen
Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices. -- Benjamin Franklin
We know what we are, but know not what we may become. -- William Shakespeare

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-- Tao Te Ching

The most common sort of lie is the one uttered to one's self. - Nietzsche
The remarkable thing is that we really do love our neighbors as ourselves; we do unto others as we do unto ourselves. We hate others when we hate oursleves. We are tolerant toward others when we tolerate ourselves. We forgive others when we forgive ourselves. It is not love of self but hatred of self which is at the root of the troubles that afflict our world. -- Eric Hoffer: U.S. Writer

1. Think about yourself.
2. Talk about yourself.
3. Use "I" as often as possible.
4. Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others.
5. Listen greedily to what people say about you.
6. Expect to be appreciated.
7. Be suspicious.
8. Be jealous and envious.
9. Be sensitive to slights.
10. Never forgive a criticism
11. Trust no one but yourself.
12. Insist on consideration and respect.
13. Demand agreement with your own views on everything.
14. Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favors shown them.
15. Never forget a service you may have rendered.
16. Be on the lookout for a good time for yourself.
17. Shirk your duties if you can.
18. Do as little as possible for others.
19. Love yourself supremely.
20. Be selfish.

This recipe is guaranteed to be infallible.

-- Gospel Herald.

Four Steps of Repentance

Teshuva is actually a process of self-evaluation and self-improvement. The Rambam enumerates four primary steps to the teshuva process:
1. Recognize and discontinue the improper action.
2. Verbally confess the action, thus giving the action a concrete form in your own mind.
3. Regret the action. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on yourself or others.
4. Determine never to repeat the action. Picture a better way to handle it
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman  

No comments: